Plan your coping strategies


Coffee is a common trigger for smoking

Cravings for a cigarette are often triggered by specific situations, people or moods. It is important to identify your personal triggers or ‘cues’ and to plan coping strategies for when they occur after you have quit.

Common cues are a cup of coffee, drinking with friends, after meals or when feeling stressed.

Cravings are usually strongest later in the day and evening and lapses are more likely to occur then. It is especially important to have effective coping strategies prepared for these times.

A smoking diary helps you to identify your triggers. Once you have anticipated your challenges, make a list of what you can do instead of smoking when they occur. Click here to download a smoking diary.

Mindfulness can also help to relieve cravings with a simple strategy called 'urge surfing'. Instead of fighting the urges, you accept and watch them and they gradually pass.

Smoking cues also respond to quick acting forms of NRT, such as the nicotine mouth spray, gum, lozenge, inhaler and nicotine strips.

In general, behavioural strategies to cope with challenges fall in the following categories:


Distract yourself until it the craving passes:

  • Do something else eg go for a walk, wash the dishes, do some deep breathing
  • Think about something else e.g. refocus on why you want to quit or imagine a relaxing scene


Really difficult triggers like drinking with friends can be hard to cope with, especially in the early stages. It may be best to avoid those situations for 2-3 weeks until you are feeling stronger.

Cravings only last 2-3 minutes on average, although they feel like a lot longer! If you can delay the thought for 10 minutes, for example, until a certain time or after completion of a task, the craving will almost invariably be gone.


Cravings only last 2-3 minutes on average, although they feel like a lot longer! If you can delay the thought for 10 minutes, for example, until a certain time or after completion of a task, the craving will almost invariably be gone.


If the pressure is mounting and you think you are going to crack, just leave! Go home, go for a walk, just get out of there!


Some specific coping tips

  • On waking - Have a shower as soon as you get out of bed, clean your teeth, go for a walk. Have a dose of the nicotine mouth spray, which works quickly. 

  • Coffee - Change to tea or herbal tea, have orange juice or water. Have your coffee in a different place, where you usually don’t or can’t smoke. Try a different brand of coffee. Use a different cup. 
  • Alcohol - Avoid alcohol for the first few weeks after quitting. If you do drink, cut down on how much you drink by alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. Change your drink to something you don’t usually have. If it all gets too hard, go home early. Click here for more about the relationship between smoking and alcohol.
  • The smell of smoke - Avoid places where people will be smoking, especially in the first 2 weeks. Spend more time in places where smoking is not allowed to avoid temptation, such as libraries or cinemas.
  • Boredom - Keep yourself busy. Make a list of things you can do if you have free time. Take up a new hobby or sport. Keep a book, magazine or crossword puzzle handy. Keep your hands busy with a stress ball. Do some volunteer work or help someone else.
  • Stress - Exercise regularly. Learn a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or meditation. Try breathing deeply through your nose and out through your mouth for 10 breaths. It may help to read a book about how to handle stress or get some professional counselling, Click here for more about stress. 
  • After a task - Reward yourself with some other activity, such as a short walk, stretching exercises, ring a friend.
  • With friends who smoke - See them less for the first few weeks. Have a nicotine lozenge or gum before seeing them. Ask your friends to smoke outside. Engage in more smoke-free activities with smoking friends such as going to a movie. Spend more time with non-smoking friends.
  • After dinner - Clean your teeth straight away, clear the table and wash the dishes, go for a walk.
  • In the car - Remove the ashtray and lighter. Clean and deodorise the car to remove the smell of smoke. Keep sugar-free gum in the car and chew while you drive instead of smoking. Eat raisins one at a time or take small sips of water. Do not allow other smokers to smoke in your car.
  • Break at work  - Read a book. Find a quiet spot and do some deep breathing. Go for a short walk in the fresh air.

  • Phone calls - Keep a doodle pad next to the phone. Answer with the other hand. Talk on the phone in places where smoking is not permitted.
  • Food cravings - try chewing on carrots, pickles, apples, celery, sugarless gum, or hard lollies. Keeping your mouth busy may stop the psychological need to smoke.


General coping strategies

Click here to download a detailed list of general coping strategies from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada.



Last Modified: 31-05-2017